Russians Will Be Allowed At The Paralympics As 'Neutrals' & That's The 'Harshest' Punishment

Other athletes have just one question: Why not ban them?

Global Editorial Fellow
​Russian Paralympian at the Sochi 2014 Games. Right: Russian President Vladimir Putin at a conference.

Russian Paralympian at the Sochi 2014 Games. Right: Russian President Vladimir Putin at a conference.

What sounds worse: forcing Russians to compete without their flag at the Paralympics, or banning them from the competition altogether?

The International Paralympic Committee says it will allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Paralympics, although they'll be "neutral" athletes because of the countries' ongoing war against Ukraine.

This, apparently, is the "harshest possible punishment" under the IPC's constitution, IPC president Andrew Parsons told reporters on Wednesday after ruling on the issue.

The IPC's governing board is "united in its condemnation of the governments of Russia and Belarus for breaching the U.N. resolution in the week leading up to the opening of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games," the organization said in a statement. "The Board was also in agreement that the breach of the Truce could not go unpunished."

That "truce" is an agreement that all countries sign before the Olympics, which says they won't go to war during the Olympic or Paralympic Games.

For breaching that rule, Russian and Belarusian athletes will not be allowed to use their flag or anthem at the Games, and they'll instead be "neutral" competitors who can't be part of the medal count.

Russia was already banned from using its name and anthem for cheating in the 2014 Olympics.

The decision isn't sitting well with many people, including those who wanted to see Russia booted from the Paralympics for the invasion.

"Suspend Russia. Cut them off," Kyle Shewfelt, a former Canadian Olympian, tweeted before the decision was made. "Please use your powers to send a stronger message."

Shewfelt later ripped the decision on Twitter after it came out.

"Lead with real action, not toothless half measures and statements," he wrote.

Global Athlete, an athlete-led advocacy group, condemned the decision in a joint statement with Ukrainian athletes on Wednesday.

"With or without a neutral label, the Russian and Belarusian authorities will use their athletes' participation in these Games as state propaganda," it says.

"These authoritarian regimes will use every ounce of their athletes' success to justify and distract from their brutal war."

The IPC has asked participants to treat the Russian and Belrusian athletes like anyone else during the Games.

Officials said the IPC will vote later this year on whether to suspend or expel the two countries from the Games.

The Winter Paralympics start Friday and run until Sunday, March 13.

This article’s left-hand cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

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